Beef Is Back for Dinner as Marketers Woo Nostalgic MillennialsHeat Profit
Beef is back for dinner.
The U.S. beef industry is resurrecting its 25-year-old tagline, “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” in a Marketing campaign aimed at millennials that have childhood memories of the slogan and want to know more about their food.
The social-media campaign from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association combines nostalgic elements, such as the tagline and narration that alludes to the “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” nursery rhyme, with a more modern story line about how beef farmers and ranchers are using technology.
In the online-only ad, created by
-owned agency VML, a rancher uses a drone and an app to keep track of his herd. “Ranch tools sure have changed,” the narrator says, as the camera sweeps across a cattle ranch.
The association revived the campaign to appeal to young consumers—especially millennial parents—who want to know the origins of their food, while playing homage to the beef brand, said
senior vice president of global Marketing and research at the Beef Association.
Ms. Harrison worked there from 1986 to 2001, a span that includes the year the tagline was born, and rejoined a year ago to oversee consumer Marketing. “We had an iconic brand with 25 years’ worth of equity,” she said.
The “What’s for Dinner” campaign slogan was introduced in 1992 and became famous when most millennials were young children. The TV and radio commercials were known for
voice-over, an orchestra playing upbeat music from the Rodeo ballet, and recommendations for recipes like szechuan beef, with estimated cooking times for busy moms.
Beef consumption in the U.S. declined 15% in the decade through 2015, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, amid a sharp rise in prices, health concerns about eating red meat, and the availability of convenient chicken products like skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
But that trend has started to shift, and the Agriculture Department projects that an increase in beef production over the next decade will lower prices and drive up demand.
As with many brands, the Beef Association is grappling with how it can appeal to younger consumers in a more fragmented media landscape while doing so with fewer financial resources. Many industries have zeroed in on the large audience of millennials—generally those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—with mixed success.
When the “What’s for Dinner” tagline first aired, the association had a Marketing budget of around $80 million to $90 million a year, Ms. Harrison said. Today that figure, including research, promotions and advertising, is closer to $30 million.
The Marketing budget is tied to the number of cows sold, which is down, according to the association. More meat is now being produced from fewer animals due to “improved genetics and nutrition,” said an association spokesman.
Beef farmers and ranchers are now contributing less to the overall Marketing effort because one dollar for every cow sold goes to the industrywide effort for Marketing, research, promotion and education programs.
Cattle inventory has declined almost 10% in the past 20 years, according to the association. Beef dollar sales so far this year have risen 1.6%, compared with the same period a year ago, while volume sales have increased 3.3%.
To communicate a more compelling message on a smaller dime, the association consolidated information that lived on eight separate websites into one new website. Rather than an expensive TV campaign, the group bought ad space from
Over the years, the group has used “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” on some Marketing materials “in the background,” Ms. Harrison said, but not prominently.
“We needed to use our strength and make sure that the brand was front and center across all Marketing programs,” she said. “Before, we had different programs and different messages for different audiences, diluting the brand.”
The association also refocused its messaging after conducting research showing that millennials wanted to know more about their food. The new website will feature information about how to prepare and store different cuts of beef, such as hanger and skirt steak, which have become more popular in recent years. Later this fall, the association is launching a virtual tour of a farm and livestock operation.
The organization is also hoping that the new campaign will help it quash “misperceptions” about beef.
“There are people out there in public dialogue that have an agenda” and attempt to “make the case that people shouldn’t be eating meat,” said Ms. Harrison. “People were misrepresenting how beef is produced.”
Corrections & Amplifications
A photo accompanying this article was provided by the Beef Checkoff. An earlier version of this article incorrectly credited the photo to National Cattlemen. (Oct. 5)
Write to Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]